I am a first grade teacher. I have been in teaching for 10 years. I have seen many programs come and go. Each program promises to cure reading problems, encourage writing, and promote a love for learning. But what I have learned through my graduate coursework at Appalachian is that programs don‟t solve problems, teachers do. Teachers that find the “best way” to educate children make the most difference. What works for one child may not work for another and we need to be mindful of developmental processes and learning styles to know what is best. As a teacher, it is imperative that we continue to be learners as well. In this program I have had opportunities to look at myself as a learner in the past and present, which has given me a new look at how my students learn. Learning opens minds and as a first grade teacher my job is to give a strong foundation for each child that passes through my door. Using “best practices” is the most
effective way of making sure that happens.
Reading Instruction (c)
As a first grade teacher in Davidson County, I must take a 5 or 6 year old child and move them from a non-reading level to a level 15-16 for them to be considered not at-risk for failure. Knowing in my heart and from my own learning that reading is a developmental process and that not all kids are the same, this requirement makes me cringe. According to Chall in 1983 there are six stages a child must go through to become a thoughtful engaged reader. “Most people, even those with special problems and needs, follow the same sequence”. (J.Chall, 1983). Some will go through the stages faster than others but all the stages are important. This is frustrating to me as a teacher when I see a child working at the beginning stage but not hitting the benchmark that the county says he should. Thankfully, we use a balanced literacy approach that encompasses guided reading, word work, writing and silent sustained reading. This approach helps to build all skills needed to be a successful reader. We use flexible reading groups usually by ability or reading level. On a weekly basis I do informal reading assessments called, “on the go running records”. This quick assessments gives me record of word recognition, decoding
strategies used and retell abilities.
As the children‟s reading improves the groups are moved around to accommodate the needs of the children. The flexibility of these groups is a very important part of the guided reading portion of our balanced literacy approach. Depending on the child‟s needs, he or she can be placed in a group that may have similar needs which can be addressed all
at one time. Each group works with a trade book that is on their instructional level. After pre-reading exercises, we begin with independent whisper reading as the teacher goes around and listens for decoding or vocabulary problems with each child.
Comprehension plays a huge role in our reading groups. For comprehension purposes, we discuss story elements like setting, characters, events, problem, solution, author‟s message and personal connection. The children share connections with themselves or the world or to other texts. Below are picture cards that I use with the children so they remember to “think” about the story elements as they read.
Setting Characters Events Author‟s Message Personal Connection
We play games to help with comprehension. One game is “Guess my card”. First, a child draws a card. If it is the author‟s message card, they tell what they think is the author‟s message and then the other kids in the group have to guess what card they have. Also, to promote comprehension, especially in a nonfiction book, we “turn and talk”. After
reading several pages about a topic, on cue the students will turn to their learning partner and tell them something that they learned or something they thought was interesting. Then they go back to reading. Another strategy that I use is from Linda Hoyt‟s book
Revist, Reflect, Retell. It is called the VIP strategy. With this strategy, the children read a page and write down very important points on a sticky note and place it on the page to
share with their partner later. The children find this activity very meaningful because they are interacting with the text. I use observation to assess whether a child can comprehend the text. If a child is having difficulty, I can again shift my flexible reading groups to accommodate children who need more help with comprehension.
Fluency is part of our guided reading program also. “Reading fluency refers to the ability to decode text smoothly, meaningfully, and effortlessly so that the reader can use her full mental resources to engage in the more important task of making sense of and responding to the text.” (Rasinski, 1996) One way to improve fluency that the children enjoy is to do repeated readings. After our second day with a text, I send the students “out into the field” to read to a partner. Each child has a sticky note to write the name of their reading partner. If they have time, they are welcome to read it as many times as they can to their friends, making sure to write every reading partner‟s name on the sticky note. They proudly bring their sticky note back with their list of names. This gives each group an opportunity to read to and listen to other children not in their group. In addition to repeated readings, I chorale read with my groups as well as echo reading with my lower leveled groups. To promote fluency we also enjoy doing Reader‟s Theater plays. Often they are humorous and the children are excited to read them. The children know that each part has to be read with enthusiasm and without hesitation. So we practice reading our parts over and over. It is obvious to the children how much better the play sounds from
the first time we read it to the presentation time. But the most important fluency instruction I do all day is read to my students. I read a variety of books and poetry. When I read I use expression and a varied voice. “Learning to be a fluent reader is like learning to ride a bike or play a musical instrument. The learner must develop an internal model of a good musician or bicyclist.” (Rasinski, 1996)
Word Study and Spelling are an important part of our balanced literacy program. I begin by telling them how letters have sounds and if you put the sounds together you make words and words make sentences and sentences make stories. I think it is important to tell the children why learning the alphabet in Kindergarten was so important. According to Dr. Morris there are four stages for early reading development. Stage one is the beginning consonant. Stage two is concept of word in text. Stage three is phoneme segmentation and the fourth stage is word recognition. (Flanigan, 2004). So at the beginning of the year I feel it is important not to just review consonant sounds but to make sure each child can match spoken word to written word while reading. This is called concept of word. Concept of word is taught in my class with big books, charts and songs. I model finger pointing as I read and often have the children read with me. Another way to teach concept of word in the beginning of the year is to “read with scissors.” “Reading with scissors” is a technique that helps some children understand concept of word. A sentence is written on a strip of paper. The student cuts the words apart and then puts the words back together as they read them. This helps the student with putting a series of words in order to make sense, word recognition and sentence structure.
To teach spelling I use a variety of strategies. First, in small group, I concentrate on blending and segmenting sounds by the use of Letterland cards, tiles, magnets and body motions. Using these manipulatives the children are able to see words in action. They physically move letters from the word mat to make map then to cap then to can. Word
families become a very important part of our spelling instruction. Once they have mastered spelling most of the word families, it is easy for them to find the same chunks in their reading. Second, word sorts can be a fun way to get children immersed in spelling patterns. “Word sort is an inductive, child-centered activity in which students group and
regroup words according to common spelling features.” (Brown, Morris, 2005). Word sorts make students attend to every aspect of a word not just first and last letter but vowel as well. Using words from their guided reading books that have the same spelling pattern can help in word identification and decoding. Third, the use of a word wall is an important part of a first grade classroom. Spelling can be difficult for the beginning writer so having frequently used words visible can ease the writer‟s task. Similar to the
word wall is the Alphabox. The use of an Alphabox can help in the retention of words and their availability. An Alpahbox is a piece of paper with a box for each letter of the alphabet. When reading or brainstorming for a writing activity, students can list words inside the appropriate box. This can be kept in a special place for easy access when spelling or writing or learning new words. This alphabox can be kept at their desk for easy access. Finally, I give the traditional spelling list and test at the end of the week. This is expected by our parents and has long been the custom at my school. Although, spelling is not normally individualized, in the fourth quarter we always run out of Davidson County spelling words so this leaves me opportunity to pull words from other
sources. Their writing is a wonderful place to look for words that they are having difficulty spelling. Also, in their writing, it is likely you will find words that they have an interest to learn. At the beginning of the fourth quarter of school, I give a spelling test of all the Davidson County spelling words and any words that are missed go on a personal spelling list for that child. Each week the child has five words off of their spelling list to study. Students that do not miss any of the first grade words get to move on to second grade spelling words or to their own chosen words. I am fortunate to have this part of the year to work on spelling child by child.
Self selected reading has become an important part of our daily schedule. In the past, I have used SSR time as a breather, catch up time, quiet time, anything but instruction time. I thought it was a waste. My children were rarely on task. Instead of reading independently, they were rolling around on the floor, making tents with their books, or asleep. Back then SSR was never a high priority for me. But now I don‟t know what my kids would do without it. In my room, SSR time is quiet but you can feel the energy. The students are on task. They are reading, thinking and engaged. When I realized the
importance of independent reading, I taught my children the importance of independent reading. I tell them every day the only way to improve your reading is to read. But what is different is that they are reading books of their choice. “Students need choices to be independent.” (Gutherie, Wigfield, 2000). The intrinsic motivation needed to learn to read has to be developed in some children. Giving students choices on the kinds of books they read is highly motivating. My students have a bag that they put 10 books in to read for SSR. Some of their books they chose may be a little easy. Some may be a little hard. But they are engaged in text and desire to be reading instead of participating in off task behavior. “Students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers.” (Allington, 2002). Unfortunately, children are not reading at home like they should. So it is up to teachers to provide the books and the time to read. During their quiet reading time, I read with one or two students and confer about their story. We discuss strategies used for decoding and comprehension. I try to get to all students by the end of the week. This one on one reading is especially important for me to see if the child is able to use the skills taught independently. For a chance to respond to their reading, they are given a response journal to keep their thoughts in order. They respond to the author‟s message or make a connection to something they have read,
seen or lived that is similar to something in the book. After responses are written, students have an opportunity to share them and the book with another child. This sharing activity encourages them to choose books that they can have a conversation about and understand. With the end of grade tests that loom in the future, stamina has been an issue in first grade. How long should they have SSR? Our school has been encouraged to have SSR last up to one hour by the end of the year. Sadly, this recommendation doesn‟t come
for reasons of reading motivation but because of the test stamina they will need in two years. SSR has become one of my favorite times of the day. It is a time for the students to show me what they can do independently. Reading is an independent sport and children must have time to practice.
Response to Literature (f)
Responses to reading and literature have become much more developed than they use to be in my class. A response to reading years ago in my class would have been to color a butterfly after we read A Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. But now I would expect
my students to relate the text to a connection to their life or another book we have read. Usually responses begin with talk. In a workshop with Linda Hoyt, she says that learning begins with a “sea of talk.” Letting the students turn and talk to their learning partner helps in two ways. First, after a child hears a story they can verbalize a thought they may have about the story which encourages comprehension and enhances memory. Secondly, the partner that may have not listened or did not understand the story at all has an opportunity to hear about the story from a friend. This may encourage them to listen next time, especially, if they are required to talk about it. Sometimes we respond to a text by playing “Say Something”. Again this activity is done after a book or just a few pages of a book are read. The learning partners turn to each other and say something about the text. The opposite partner responds to the other child by saying, “Why did you say that?” The child then has to defend their thought process about the story.
Responding to stories can be in the form of prediction as well. Sometimes I will stop at appropriate places in a story and have the children predict what will happen. Darrell Morris discusses this strategy in the Howard Street Tutoring Manual as DRTA (Directed
Reading-Thinking Activity). Usually, I will read a few pages and stop. I will have the students turn and talk about what will happen in the rest of the story. Then I read a few more pages and then stop and have the children change their prediction based on the evidence in the story. This activity builds comprehension but also gives students plenty of thinking time to respond to the story based on the events in the story.
Responding to literature can be in written form as well. My students have composition books that have been cut in half as their response journals. After a text is read each child responds by writing an answer to a question I pose to them. We call this Power Writing.
It is powerful because the students must think of a response to literature that encompasses what the story is about in just a few sentences. They have to think of key points and the solutions to the problems in the story. But this activity also gives them power. It gives them power to write what they want about the story. Then the response is shared. Each response is dated so that it is easy to see their progression throughout the year.
Responding to literature is an important part of listening engagement. In addition, response journals can be a window into how a student listens, learns, and evaluates text. To actively learn a student must produce something. Whether it is a discussion or a paragraph, the learner needs to create a meaningful connection.
Writing Instruction (e)
Writing instruction has changed over the years in my classroom. Like reading motivation, writing needs to be motivated by choices as well. This year we have begun teaching writing in a Writer‟s Workshop format. The children are referred to as writers. Each child has a folder with their work in it. Each piece is written according to the child‟s
desire. They choose what they want to write about. They choose to continue the story or call it finished. They choose to add to an old story or start a new one. My job is to model appropriate story outline, sentence structure, word stretching, thought processes, editing, illustrating and anything else the students may need instruction on. In addition to modeling, I conference with each child. When I conference I praise them for attempting to do what I just covered in the mini lesson or for their elaboration. I also give them a teaching point to work on. I keep conference notes in a notebook. So I have a daily record of who I have spoken with and how they are doing on a particular skill. This conferencing aspect gives me one on one time with each child. Also, since they are writing about what they want to write about, I learn so much about my students. Learning about my students has been the key to getting my students to write. Each day we start with a mini-lesson. In that short lesson I like to use samples from the children who are doing a particular skill correctly. When I brag on little Sue‟s writing, that makes
her want to write more. Conferencing give me a window into what they are writing about even if it is not finished. In the past, my students would write and I would clean my desk or maintain order. But now, since I conference with each student they know I care. They want to tell me about their family, friends, dogs, and even their boo boos. Another part of writer‟s workshop that is clearly motivational is our celebrations. After we have finished a unit in writing we have a celebration and share a published piece of writing with someone. Our first celebration was with my student‟s old kindergarten teachers, next we shared with another first grade class, then our book buddies and finally we have shared with our parents. During this celebration we have a snack. The students feel special and their ability to write is affirmed. After the celebration, their work is posted on our writer‟s workshop board for all to read and enjoy.
Poetry has become a joy in our class. We have poetry journals where the students are given a poem and they cut it out and put it in their journal with an illustration. Often the poem has to do with the theme we are studying that week. We read the poem every morning. Often we read for enjoyment but sometimes we read it looking for spelling/vocabulary words, contractions, verbs, nouns, adjectives, feeling words, etc. But the biggest joy we have had with poetry has been writing it. In our writer workshop time, we have read many types of genres (non-fiction, fiction, fairy tales, etc) and tried to write in those kinds of genres. But the children wanted to try poetry. We started by trying to see things through a poet‟s eyes. We started with describing objects. The students compared a stapler to an alligator waiting for its prey and a dew covered rose to a flower crying for sun. I never thought that they would be able to describe things the way they did. But with encouragement, they were not only writers but they became poets. We posted our class poems in the room and made special poetry folders. The children wrote acrostic, Cinquain and rhyming poems. We celebrated with parents at our “coffee house”. Each child read their favorite poem into a microphone as parents listened intently. Again, like their stories, the celebration affirmed their ability to write poetry.
One way I teach Literature is through the Shared Book Experience. “Teachers can display the skill (of reading) in a purposeful way by using enlarged print for the experience of listening to stories and participating in all aspects of reading.” (Holloway, 1979)
Fortunately, we have a large amount of big books at my school. This way of teaching opens up a variety of skills that can be taught. Concept of word at the beginning of the year is easily taught using big books. As I read big books I can point to each word and the students can follow along with me and read along. Since there has been such an emphasis on nonfiction in the upper grades because of testing, we have had to integrate nonfiction to at least 50% of our reading collections. The students have enjoyed studying real facts about animals, pilgrims, transportation, holidays, etc. With our nonfiction studies, we have had to introduce many new aspects of books that only upper grade students would have learned about years ago. The new vocabulary that we have to go over is a table of contents, glossary, index, captions, and sub-headings. This vocabulary has helped the students find facts and opened up a new way of reading. For example, my students know that the table of contents contains the key points of the book. They also know that in a true nonfiction book you can start any where and not loose the sense of story. Another genre that we enjoy is fairy tales and fables. These stories are excellent in teaching character education and life lessons. Many times our discussions lead into what they author was thinking when he wrote the story. It leads the children to question why the author chose that ending. At the beginning of the year, nursery rhymes are a fun way to teach onsets and rimes. Some of the nursery rhymes are familiar to the children so they enjoy joining in. Big books are an essential part of a first grade classroom and having a variety of genres means giving students a wider look at the world.
In all the genres that we study in first grade, we try to integrate them into our writing. My saying is, “If you write it, someone will read it. If you read it, then you can write it.” With this in mind, we have written several class books that have shown the children‟s
creativity. Recently, we have been writing nonfiction How To books. The children chose
a subject that they wanted to teach other kids. Some wrote a book about how to ride a bike, make pizza or play tag. Each book had steps in a sequence. Reading and writing are so directly related that it is hard to do one without the other in our class.
Kinds of Materials (b)
Since beginning my studies at Appalachian, I have been introduced to many different and interesting kinds of programs on the computer to use in my classroom. Most of these programs offer choices for the student to make. They are interactive and foster learning in a whole new way. In this world of television and computer screens, we must find a way to effectively teach students with these tools. Computer programs offer highly motivating games and stories that the students enjoy. In my class we have begun integrating reading, writing, math, social studies, and science using several programs.
First, in my hypermedia class I learn to use Photostory. Photostory is a program that uses pictures or photos similar to a power point but is able to record voices for each picture. The student watching the video can click to hear the voice again or go to the next page. On the videos that I have made, I spoke very slowly so the children could read along with the sentences at the bottom of the picture. It is very user friendly. I have made a video about rocks, reindeer, and pumpkins. I have played the video in my computer for a few kids to see at a time. But it is most effective on the active board for large groups.
Photostory allows you to add music and captions as well. In the future, I would like for my students to make a video. The only reason I have not let my students make one up to this point is time. It is very time consuming to download pictures and drag them into the video. I would need a parent volunteer that could help with this task.
The second kind of program that I have enjoyed teaching is Kidspiration. Kidspiration is a tool that can enable students to organize themselves for writing. We often use it for our non fiction stories. For example, we made a bubble map about apples. Then we wrote about them for our unit on apples. We invited parents to come in and observe our many investigations with apples. One of the activities shown to parents was how to make a bubble map on Kidspiration. The students were the teachers. Their parents were impressed by their child‟s knowledge of the computer and the program.
Another program I like to use with my students is the internet. On the internet we have enjoyed books online, educational games, and fact finding. In a very controlled atmosphere, my students know how to get on the internet and find the bookmark that we need for that day. At first this can be a very stressful lesson. But working with a few students at a time is the key. I have tried getting 24 students on a website at the same time and I almost lost my mind. But small groups are able to listen and click the appropriate icon faster and more efficient. Starfall.com is an internet website that we frequently use to read books and spell words. I especially like the stories that are read to them. If a child wants to read it again, they can click on the words that they do not know and the computer will tell them the word. These online stories are not appropriate for decoding purposes but can be highly motivating to a beginning reader. This website has games that help with phonics and matching sounds with letters.
The internet also offers a world of information out there that we have begun to explore. A good place to start to find a website that is suitable for first graders is www.learnnc.org.
This website not only has games for all grades but it also has other websites that are considered the best of the web. For internet safety, websites must be viewed before the
children have access to them. It is more efficient to bookmark websites instead of searching and typing in web addresses in front of the students.
In the future, I would like to use email as a way for the students to communicate with parents. Not all of my parents have the internet at home but some have it at work. Using my Davidson County website, I would like for the students to email their parents or friends. Instead of pen pals, they could have e-pals or e-buddies to email. This would be a fun way to get the students to write and read. Recently, our school has been given 20 laptop computers. They are all wireless. We are able to bring the lab down to our classroom to do small group activities or whole group lessons. Since they are wireless, we can all get on the internet at the same time. This is very exciting for the students. It is very interesting to watch the students when they get on the laptop. Their own demeanor changes from a first grader to a professional laptop operator. They feel important. It is interesting how an ordinary material like a computer can make a world of difference for a
Another material that I like to use is the active board. This board comes with a projector and laptop that is on a cart. The active board works like a big screen but has a pen-like instrument that works like a mouse. As the projector shows the computer screen on the board the pen can move objects like a mouse. It can escape out of a page and on to another. The students are able to manipulate the screen with the pen as well. We have used the active board with interactive stories. These stories usually have choices for the students to make and they choose it with the pen. For our pig unit in October (BBQ festival time in Lexington) we watched the interactive story The Three Little Pigs. In this
story the children could choose different ways for the wolf to try to get the pigs. Each way was more ridiculous than the other but the children wanted to hear the story over and over so they could continue changing the endings. We usually do this kind of activity as a whole group because the screen is so big. Again, the idea of reading The Three Little Pigs to the students is great but having a big interactive computer screen to read it together „cranks it up a notch.‟ Having appropriate materials can mean the difference between having passive observers and active participants.
Finally, we were required by our county to begin to develop a class or grade level website. This task was made easy by a program called Schoolcenter.com. This is a very easy was to make a website. Our grade level is in the process of making a website that will keep our parents up to date on what is happening at school. On our website, we are listing our reading word list, spelling lists, science and social studies themes and math objectives. Each teacher will have a place to put their individual newsletter. A library corner is also planned for parents to read about books suitable for their child. Also, we plan to put activities for the students on the website. Website links that would benefit the children will be listed. Due to the fact that many of our families do not have the internet, we could not require work to be completed from the website. Our grade level website is still in the works. But when it is finished, it will be an effective way to communicate with parents and our students.